Broncos and Russell Wilson showing off big-play offense during OTAs
The Denver Broncos have one more week of OTAs left before mandatory minicamp next week. I’ve been out there for every practice that has been open to the media so far this offseason, and you see something different each time out there.
The team works on different things depending on what week of installation they are in. You’ll see some defensive emphasis and some offensive emphasis as the team prepares for the 2022 season. It’s just practice, but there are many things to learn by watching closely to what the team is doing.
Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett discussed why he highlights different aspects of the game on a week-to-week basis.
“Every day, we always have the different focuses that we’re working on. Today was field and some third down. We’ll try to get all the situations done in that time from two-minute to red zone to third down. Right now, all of our instillations are in, so the whole offense, the whole defense and all of the special teams are in. All these practices that are going on are about reviewing, understanding, and detailing things up because you throw everything at them, give them the whole book and do as much as you possibly can. Now, we can truly dissect each play and what we’re trying to accomplish,” Hackett said.
Here are my three biggest observations from OTAs on Monday.
Young CBs Can Make Plays
On Monday, Patrick Surtain was out of action for an undisclosed reason. After practice, Hackett did not give much of an update on the second-year pro.
“We want to be as careful as we possibly can and make sure that everybody is good, so I think that it’s just—everything is primarily precautionary right now and we’re making sure we’re getting better,” Hackett said.
Without Surtain on the field, some young cornerbacks had the chance to shine for the defense – and shine they did! Seventh-round pick Faion Hicks and undrafted free agent Ja’Quan McMillian looked good out there making plays.
Hicks seemed to be always around the ball. He’s a smart player who identifies plays as they unfold in front of him. There’s no live tackling in practice, but Hicks is a player who flies to the ball-carrier and shows no hesitation when it comes to run support.
McMillian is one of my favorite sleeper cornerbacks from this draft class. He has incredible ball skills (40 passes defensed in 33 career games), and McMillian is showing off that skill in practice so far this offseason. While some think cornerback has a depth issue behind the top three at the position (Surtain, Ronald Darby, K’Waun Williams), these young players may dispel that thought process.
Hackett talked about Hicks making plays and transitioning from college to the pros.
“They’re both a major transition. For him, some of the wide receivers that he’s going to go against are different than the ones that he went up against in college. We’re also putting a lot more on him, but he’s lucky because he’s coming from a system that is somewhat like ours and has been around a lot. I think for him particularly, it would probably be more of the speed, but he’s doing a good job and we’re excited to have him,” Hackett said.
Going Deep Looks Good
Broncos starting quarterback Russell Wilson may have one of the best deep balls in the NFL. I’m not going to give away too much of what I’ve seen, but Broncos Country should know that the deep game is going to be emphasized by this offense.
Wilson was able to hit tight end Albert Okwuegbunam on a deep shot down the left sideline that scored, but late in practice he threw an even better pass. This time, Wilson subtly changed the play to take the deep shot. It went to wide receiver Tim Patrick, and he was able to win the catch with his frame. This play might have been one of the best from the offense this entire offseason – and I’ve seen this offense make some nice plays in the air.
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) June 6, 2022
Hackett loved what he saw on that play, and he described how it came to be.
“It was funny. We changed the script a bit and called something different. We wanted to throw the ball a little bit because (defensive coordinator) Ejiro (Evero) was starting to pressure us some. It was great because it was a little check on that play. It wasn’t just the play that it was, but it was also the check that Russell got to. He was pretty sneaky too, so I didn’t know that it was coming. I was a little nervous and thought that he was going to (go through progressions). Then, I looked up and the ball was going and Tim ran a beautiful route. That was awesome,” Hackett said.
Working After Practice
The leadership from Wilson is rubbing off on other players on the roster. Wilson loves the game, but he also loves the work it takes to be great at this game. His work ethic is infectious for the rest of the team as players – seemingly more than ever – are staying after practice to get some extra work in.
I like seeing players take time with each other to go over tips and tricks of the game. The coaching staff are not telling them to stay out there, but it’s like the Broncos themselves are having too much fun to stop. This team is learning new systems from this coaching staff, and they’re making learning fun.
Hackett knows with time; special things can happen with this team.
“We challenge the guys because the coaches obviously know the system. We built it, we understand it and I’ve been in it a long time now. The idea is, I don’t get to play football — those guys do. Those are the guys that go out on the field. It’s about them understanding it better than me. It’s like the old Star Wars deal. You have the Jedis, and you have the masters. You have to make them all masters. I think that when they start owning it themselves, those player-led teams, that’s when things really special start to happen. To see them do that stuff is great because it’s just that they’re willing and want to learn and know it better than their coaches. That’s what you’re hoping. Whenever you’re up there installing and there’s something messed up, you want them to catch that. When they catch that, that means you’re doing your job really well,” Hackett said.
Seeing players put in extra work together after practice reminds me of how things used to be. When Peyton Manning was the Broncos quarterback, staying after practice and putting in extra work was just something players did. You don’t have to talk about it, and you don’t have to ask. All you have to do is put in the work – something Wilson is inspiring his teammates to do.